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Continued: Review: Google variants of Samsung S4 and HTC One offer simplicity for hefty price

  • Article by: ANICK JESDANUN , AP Technology Writer
  • Last update: July 2, 2013 - 4:30 PM

Google's HTC One, meanwhile, shares the original model's front-facing speakers, giving you great sound when you're watching a movie or listening to music. Both models also have cameras with larger sensor pixels for better low-light shots. Our tests show that the HTC One produces low-light images with less distortion than other Android phones, though images aren't particularly crisp because the resolution is lower.

There are a few things I wish Google would have brought to its phones and to Android in general.

In the original S4, the on-screen keyboard has a row of numerals to type in. With the Google S4, you have to hit a button to get another screen with numerals, then toggle back for the letters. The original S4 also has the ability to run two apps side by side in a split window. That's gone in Google's S4.

Meanwhile, the original HTC One has the ability to make calls, send texts and take photos by sliding icons from the lock screen. With the Google version, you have to unlock the screen before getting icons to those functions.

On both phones, Google also adds one feature I could do without: a 360-degree panorama known as Photo Sphere. Neat as it is, it detracts from what is otherwise a just-the-basics camera. It would have been better as a separate app for those who want it.

But that's no reason to shun the Google phones. The minimized feel of Google's versions underscores how busy software can detract from good hardware. Take away that clutter, and you have excellent phones.

It's a bummer that you can't get the simplified phones through regular channels. You can get them only through Google's online Play store — for hundreds of dollars more.

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About the Google phones:

The new phones are existing Samsung and HTC phones loaded with Google's version of the Android operating system. That's the version that Google makes, before phone makers and phone carriers load Android up with their own features and apps.

These phones are good options for those who don't like all the bells and whistles in the original models. They are cleaner and easier to use. But they are also more expensive, as you have to pay full price through Google's online Play store rather than a subsidized price that wireless carriers offer with two-year agreements.

These phones aren't compatible with Verizon's or Sprint's CDMA networks. If you're on AT&T, you'll be paying more for the phone without any reduction in monthly phone bills. If you're on T-Mobile, though, expect to save $20 a month, or $480 over two years. You're still paying about $70 more overall for Google's S4 and $20 more for Google's One, but it's not the hundreds of dollars you'd be paying on AT&T.

The one-time, upfront cost is $649 for Google's S4 with 16 gigabytes of storage and $599 for the One with 32 gigabytes. Both phones are available in the U.S. only through Google's online Play store, with shipments expected by July 9.

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Anick Jesdanun, deputy technology editor for The Associated Press, can be reached at njesdanun@ap.org.

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